Maybe the Leafs didn’t want to trade Phaneuf, but they couldn’t afford to keep him

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The conference call was supposed to outline the reasons why Toronto traded its captain, Dion Phaneuf.

But instead, the man that orchestrated the deal — GM Lou Lamoriello — opened with all the reasons why the Leafs would miss him.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with Dion from day one,” Lamoriello explained on Tuesday, shortly after flipping Phaneuf to Ottawa in a blockbuster nine-player deal. “I came in with no preconceived notions, I really didn’t know what to expect other than what was hearsay at different times.

“He’s been impressive in every way whatsoever. And in the phone call I had with him, I expressed that and I meant it sincerely. He’s been a great leader, he’s handled every situation that’s been asked of him, and he’s going to be missed.”

But then, Lamoriello turned to the hard truth.

For as much as the Leafs liked Phaneuf and respected what he’d done in his six-plus seasons with the organization, he just didn’t fit anymore.

Phaneuf, who turns 31 in April, didn’t fit with the rebuild. Assuming the Leafs are two to three years away from being competitive, it’s hard to envision a (successful) blueprint in which a veteran defenseman — one that’s essentially been miscast as a No. 1 since arriving in Toronto — is pushing 35 while the team is on an upswing… while pulling in $7 million annually.

Which brings us to the next thing that didn’t fit in Toronto:

Phaneuf’s contract.

In the second of a seven-year, $49 million deal, Phaneuf would’ve been on Toronto’s books through 2021. That kind of term is an albatross, especially when the likes of Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri need new deals by next July, and prized prospects Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen are all due to hit restricted free agency around the same time.

Sens GM Bryan Murray acknowledged as much in his conference call, saying the Phaneuf trade “gives [the Leafs] relief in the latter part of the contract.”

Lamoriello also made mention of that fact, pointing out that a key to the deal was not retaining any of Phaneuf’s salary.

“The length of Dion’s contract and the amount of cap space that is there — where that would put us at a given time, certainly not knowing where the cap will go, this gives us the opportunity to do things,” he said. “It also gives us the opportunity when some of our younger players are coming to the end of their entry-level contracts — who we have high expectations for — to sign them.”

In the end, the deck was just too stacked against Phaneuf.

The GM that acquired him (Brian Burke) and the one that extended him (Dave Nonis) are long gone, and the new regime made no bones about the fact that, for as much as they liked Phaneuf, they didn’t like his contract.

So, off to Ottawa he goes.

“This is a transaction, “Lamoriello said, “that we had no choice with.”

Related: For Sens, Phaneuf brings experience and ‘security on the back end’